It’s probably taken you some time to decide to go to therapy. Most people recognize that they have a problem worthy of seeking help, but aren’t quite ready to go to counseling. You’ve done some reading about your issue, talked to friends and family about it, and researched ideas online, but still you’re not in a good place. You’re stuck and you’re ready to feel better. You’ve contemplated the decision long and hard, and now you’re ready to start therapy. Now you just need a therapist.
You could go about finding a therapist in a variety of ways. Most people try the following ideas first:
- Ask your friends who they see
- Ask your doctor for a referral
- Google it
These are all valid ideas for finding a therapist, but I want to help you find the RIGHT therapist for you.
Consider this. I have this beautiful pair of silver flats. They are sparkly and have adorable bows on the top. They were on sale and I absolutely LOVE them. Every time I wear them, I get giant blisters on my heels. Every time! From the surface, they seemed like great shoes. Even when I tried them on, I thought they would work. After wearing them for a while, I quickly understood they are not the right fit for me.
You might think it doesn’t matter who your therapist is, but do you really want blisters on your heels? You can probably find a name pretty quickly using the methods above, and you could schedule an appointment within 20 minutes of making your decision if you really wanted to. But finding someone who would be a good fit is super important. Why would that be?
Research shows that therapeutic alliance is the best predictor of treatment outcome (Horvath & Symonds, 1991). Therefore therapeutic alliance is often thought to be the most important aspect to focus on at the beginning of therapy. So what the heck does that mean?
Therapeutic alliance is essentially the relationship between the therapist and the client. It’s essential to have a great relationship with your therapist because you want to be able to trust them and you need them to understand you and your experiences. You need to be completely honest with your therapist to be able to understand and heal your pain. If you felt uncomfortable or had a “just ok” relationship with your counselor, would you be willing to tell them your secrets and deepest thoughts? Probably not.
We know the relationship is important, but you also need to consider how your therapist works. Remember when you were going to school and you had some teachers that were awesome and some that you couldn’t stand. A lot of that probably had to do with their teaching style and if their style was cohesive with the way that you learn. This idea applies to therapy as well. There are many great therapists out there, and just because they come highly recommended doesn’t mean their style will work for you and the way that you process information.
Let’s revisit the ideas above for finding a therapist.
- Ask a friend or family member: I still recommend this as a good starting place if you are willing to ask around. Many great referrals come from word of mouth. However, I would warn that just because your best friend loves their therapist doesn’t mean that’s the right person for you. Your friend may love ice cream but you could be lactose intolerant. It is a good idea to get names so you can find those therapist’s websites and learn more about them.
- Ask your doctor for a referral: Again, this is a good way to get names to start researching on your own. Your doctor’s office may have a referral list that they have put together of therapists close by. I’d like to warn you that sometimes those lists are outdated. I suggest asking your doctor if they personally know these therapists and why they have made it on the referral list. What types of clients do they see? What makes them great?
- Google it: Googling therapists by zip code is a very common practice. You call the person at the top of the search and book with them immediately. I highly recommend against this! It’s not bad to google, but again, it’s only a starting place. Don’t google just by your city or zip code. Get specific when you’re looking online. Type in your city/zip code and what you’re looking for help with. You can get as detailed as possible and see what websites come up. (Even if you end up searching through a platform like Psychology Today, you can search by area of specialty, gender, therapy models, etc.). Then when you click on the website, actually spend some time seeing what that person has to say. Do you feel that they understand your specific pain? Does it feel like you could talk to them? Do they have any resources or blogs that could help you understand more about how they work?
Here are some other things to think about as you are on your search to find the right therapist for you:
- Call for a consultation: Many therapists offer free consultations. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of this. The therapist also wants to make sure that they will be a great fit for you, and that they can help you with your particular issue. You can get a sense of how well you will be able to relate to them and if they seem genuine. Don’t be scared or put off if you still aren’t 100% positive they are the perfect fit for you after the initial phone call. You can always meet with them in person to get a better idea if you had a good connection over the phone.
- Do some research about different types of therapy: You don’t need to write a thesis about the many models of therapy, but it could be helpful to do a bit of research online about the different kinds of therapy and want you think would be helpful for you. Ask questions during your phone consultation about what models the therapist uses.
- Look for a specialist/expert: Be weary of a therapist (or any business/service) that says they specialize in everything and can treat everyone. No one can be everything for everybody and do it well. Would you rather have someone that is mediocre at treating everything or someone who has expert knowledge in one area?
- Be really honest: Many people worry about hurting a therapist’s feelings, so if the first session doesn’t feel right they never come back. I encourage people to be honest about what’s working in therapy, and what isn’t. The therapist can adjust for future sessions and better meet your needs. If they still aren’t right, please have a real conversation about this. It won’t hurt a good therapist’s feelings and it’s an opportunity for both people to grow from the experience. The therapist will be able to make a referral based on what you are looking for and help you find someone they think you will click with. It really will benefit you in the long run to be honest about your needs.
It definitely matters who your therapist is, and I hope that you are able to find the right therapist for you. What are some other considerations you think are important when picking your therapist?
I am a Marriage and Family Therapist located in Houston, Tx. I have specialized expertise in working with couples in conflict, infertility counseling, and the transition to parenthood. Don’t hesitate to call me for your free consultation at (832) 827-3288. I’d love to talk with you more about your needs and determine together if we would be a good fit.